With two of their six preseason matches now completed, Liverpool's preparations for the 2013-2014 season are going to kick into high gear shortly--the win in Jakarta yesterday saw Brendan Rodgers give over an hour to most of a starting eleven that was generally viewed as being close to their best, with only absences and injuries preventing the manager from having a full squad to choose from. We can probably expect more of the same in Melbourne and Bangkok, and by the time Liverpool return to Europe for friendlies against Valerenga and Celtic, we'll have a good idea of what to expect on August 17.
From there it's a battle for the club to get themselves back among the Premier League's best, with qualification for European football widely accepted as the primary goal. There's going to be plenty of pressure from day one on both Rodgers and his squad, and that's a reality not lost on Jordan Henderson ahead of his third season in a Liverpool shirt:
"There are a lot of younger lads who have come into the team and I'm not quite as young as I once was. So I've just got to maybe help some of the younger lads coming through into the team and get them to feel as comfortable as they can.I think it is a big season for the club and for me on a personal level as well, but it's one that I look forward to. I think we've just got to keep improving all the time - and try and start the season off really well and build some momentum up from the start. I'm sure that will take us through the season and we'll finish successfully.
"I think we're definitely up for the challenge - and we're looking forward to it. The manager came in last year and I think we improved over the season. We finished well, so we'll look to pick up where we left off with that and hopefully we can build some momentum. For me, I've just got to keep improving as a player and keep learning from everybody around me and try and pick up where I left off at the end of last season."
Where he left off at the end of last season was as arguably one of the more consistent players in the starting eleven, managing to produce solid performances after winning back a spot over the season's final months. It was a stretch that saw him feature prominently, affording him the chance to exorcise some portion of the demons from a first season at Liverpool that saw him shunted wide time and again to little effect under Kenny Dalglish. Aside from a few appearances through the middle in which he performed far better, it'd be hard to argue that his debut season on Merseyside was a success.
Adopting a leadership role seems a far cry from those days, but it's easy to see the positive influence he can have on those hoping to stick in the first-team setup. He's experienced plenty of struggle and mostly come out the other side, always hard-working and clearly committed, his is an attitude that Liverpool need replicated throughout the squad. He might not find himself back in the starting eleven when the Premier League season starts, but there won't be any question about his readiness to contribute if called upon.
Just like everybody else, he'll need to be, as he's right about the challenge ahead. Consistency's been one of Liverpool's biggest enemies in recent seasons, and they'll have to find a way to change that if this "big season" is going to be a success.